Opinion, Tech

The Telephone

Marco found a quotation by Rick Webb that I want to share:

The telephone was an aberation in human development. It was a 70 year or so period where for some reason humans decided it was socially acceptable to ring a loud bell in someone else’s life and they were expected to come running, like dogs. This was the equivalent of thinking it was okay to walk into someone’s living room and start shouting. It was never okay.

Read the whole thing, in context. It’s exactly what I’ve been thinking and feeling for a long time and now I’ve finally got around to expressing it. They’re not my words, but that’s exactly what I’ve been meaning to say.

I only place phone calls when there’s no other, less intrusive and similarly efficient way of communicating some information – which isn’t very often in my case. The last person I phoned was my Grandma two weeks ago – she doesn’t text or email, and I couldn’t visit her then. And the last call I received was from my older brother, who called for a chat. That’s fine too; we often have lengthy conversations, and with him living in London it’s often the best way of staying a part of each other’s life1.

A ringing phone so incredibly rude. “Hey, whatever it is you’re doing: stop, and come talk to me. What I’ve got to say is more important than whatever you’re doing”. A phone is an important tool to have, but that doesn’t mean it should be used when it doesn’t have to be. You might barge into someone’s conversation or work and interrupt them when there’s an emergency or when something needs to be communicated instantly, but in any other situation you would quickly earn a reputation for being an asshole. The same should be true with phone calls.

I want to focus on what I’m focusing on, and I want to deal with (non-emergency) stuff when I want to deal with it. Text messages and emails are perfect for that. The house is on fire? Fine, call me. But if you’ve just spotted Gordon Ramsay, let me know in a text. If you want to discuss it at great length, send me a text to see if I’d be up for a phone call, and I’ll get back to you when I’ve finished this game of Jenga.

I’ve taken to not answering the phone sometimes – the landline, that is. There’s the fact that it’s hardly ever for me, so why should I be a receptionist for the rest of the house? (Our phone doesn’t show who’s calling, so when I say “Hello?”, I really don’t know who I’m talking to2.) Most importantly, why should I come running whenever someone decides to dial those particular 11 numbers? If a phone call is really important, I think that the caller would at least try calling again straight away if no one picked up, so there’s no need to pick any call up the first time3. Anyway, the majority of callers who would ever need to contact me in an emergency know my mobile number4, which I will probably then answer.

By the way, I don’t even do instant messaging any more, though I realise that it’s a bit different. The main reason is that I’m now rarely at my desktop computer for extended periods of time5, and when I am, I usually have a specific task that I wish to complete, preferably without interruptions. Again, I’m not ruling out ever using IM again, but I’m not going to have it running just in case someone wants to grab my attention when they please.

If you really want to communicate with me in real time: let’s meet up. Otherwise, or text or an email is usually the best option.

  1. We both know when’s a good time to call. 
  2. I’ve become very fast at hanging up on ‘market researchers’ (“Hello sir, I want to thank you for coming to the phone this evening” 
  3. That’s a nice little filtering system there. 
  4. Thankfully I don’t get many calls to my mobile. 
  5. I think that’s a good thing 

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